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ART. II.-JOHN BANIM.
ANXIETY FOR FAME AS A DRAMATIC POET. COMPOSITION OF
HIS TRAGEDY SYLLA." HISTORY OF THE TRAGEDY. COMPARISON OF IT WITH THE SYLLA OF DEKKER AND JOUY. EXTRACTS FROM IT. LETTERS. PROPOSED VISIT TO THE SOUTH OF ENGLAND. RESTORED HEALTH. FRIENDSHIP OF JOHN STIRLING. VISIT TO CAMBRIDGE, RESTORED HEALTH OF MRS. BANIM. URGING MICHAEL BANIM TO CONTINUE JOINT AUTHORSHIP. LETTERS. BUOYANT SPIRITS AND NEW PROJECTS. REMOVAL TO EASTBOURNE. OPINION OF MICHAEL'S TALE, THE CROPPY.”
ACCOUNT OF ITS COMPOSITION. A DAUGHTER BORN TO JOHN BANIM. CORRESPONDENCE WITH GERALD GRIFFIN. REMOVAL TO SEVEN OAKS. ADMIRABLE LETTER TO MICHAEL UPON THE COMPOSITION OF A NOVEL AND THE SELECTION OF CHARACTERS. INCIDENTS SUGGESTED AND OLD STORIES RECALLED. THE BEAUTIES AND ART OF GREAT NOVELISTS DISPLAYED. LETTER FROM MICHAEL SHOWING RESULT OF THIS ADVICE IN THE PRODUCTION OF THE GHOST HUNTER.”
ILLNESS. LETTER TO MICHAEL. LITERARY OCCUPATIONS DESCRIBED. BEAUTIFUL ACCOUNT OF HIS HOME LIFE-HIS CONDITION, THE BODY RACKED BUT THE MIND GLOWING. DELIGHT AT RENEWED FRIENDSHIP OF GERALD GRIFFIN. THEIR LETTERS TO EACH OTHER. REMOVAL TO BLACKHEATH. ILLNESS AND PROSTRATION OF STRENGTH. KEMOVAL TO THE FRENCH COAST ADVISED BY PHYSICIANS. ANOTHER SERIES OF TALES BY THE O'HARA FAMILY" BURRIEDLY WRITTEN BY JOHN BANIM AND PUBLISHED UNDER THE TITLE OF THE DENOUNCED." REMOVAL TO FRANCE.
It will have been remarked by the attentive student of Banim's mind, as exhibited in bis letters, that the old love of poetry and of dramatic composition, recurs frequently in evident forms. It was indeed never entirely lost, and he seems to have cherished hopes of brilliant and steady success in that most difficult of all literary labors, the production of a really poetical, original drama.
He was ever, in his leisure hours, and these, truly, were few, engaged in poetic composition; he had no pleasures, save those springing from literature. In this, he did not resemble Scott, or Byron, or Pope, or Moore ; and be, more than any literary man of our time, could declare with the great Chancellor of France, D'Aguesseau, “le changement d'etude est toujours un delassment pour moi.” The hero of his drama was always selected from those historic names, whose deeds, and crimes or virtues, have afforded the fullest scope for the display of the genius of the dramatist and the art of the actor. It is also worthy of remark, that in all his dramas, as in all his novels, Banim ever chooses the portrayal of the wildest and fiercest passions, or the most harrowing and striking situations.
Ancient bistory seems to have been the storehouse whence he selected his plots; Damon and Pythias was one of these subjects thus drawn, and of its treatment the reader has been already enabled to judge, but, in the latter months of 1826, Banim commenced the composition of his tragedy entitled Sylla, and it was completed in the last week of January, 1827. He appears to have supposed that his play was the first attempt to paint the character of Sylla in the English language, and, doubtless his was the first attempt worthy the theme. A drama in three acts, and entitled Sylla, was, however, written by Derrick, and printed, though never performed, in 1753; it grossly misconceives the character of the Dictator, and makes him, in addition, sing three songs.
By a strange co-incidence Derrick founded, and in part translated this drama from a French play of the early part of the seventeenth century, and Banim formed his tragedy upon, and in part translated it from the Sylla of M. Jouy : and thus it comes to pass that the only dramatic authors who leave taken Sylla for their subject have had one common fountain of inspiration--a French original. Of bis own design, and of his opinions of Sylla's character as concieved by M. Jouy, Banim thus wrote :
“The present is, so far as the writer is aware, the first attempt in the English language to illustrate, by dramatic action, the character of Sylla, and to account plausibly for the motives for his last astounding act of power-namely, his laying down the dictatorship. That the man, and the events of his public life, particularly the one specified, are strikingly dramatic, will not be denied ; and the previous want of an English tragedly built with such materials, is almost as striking. Perhaps it may have been caused by the apparent difficulty of the task. It is quite true that history supplies very little to make such a task easy. Sylla's heart and inind have been
less unveiled to us by old writers, than have those of any other celebrated personage of antiquity. His own reasons for some of his actions_actions, sometimes noble, sometimes atrocious, always startling, remain at best but as matters of guess work to us. The outline of his character is blurred to our eyes. We do not understand him. Cæsar, Antony, Brutus, Catiline, and a score other citizens of old Rome, occur to our thoughts like intimate, well-known acquaintances, while of Sylla our notions are vague and unformed. As to what must have been truly his state of mind, when he laid down the palm and purple, and dismissed his lictors in the Forum, amid a crowd of people, from scarce one of whom he had not good reason to dread a stern and dangerous remonstrance regarding his reign as dictator–upon his reasons for this prodigious and sublime act of hardihood, history is silent. And hence, indeed, would seem to arise such a difficulty as had just been conjectured. If you make a man the hero of a play, you must necessarily make him speak in his own person; and just as necessarily, sooner or later, in the progress of your five acts, you must make him account, out of his own lips, for what he does. "But how is this to be easily effected with a historical character, of whose incentives to what he does, ancient his. torians seem to decline all explanation ?
In another country, however, a tragedy of Sylla has been produced, and its author, M. Jouy, of the French Academy, has, in his own apprehension, found no obstacle in the way. Upon the authority of Montesquieu, that gentleman refers to what can be nothing, or little less than patriotism, not only Sylla's abdication, but even his usurpation of the dictatorship, thus—(I quote from M. Jouy's preface to his tragedy):
• Sous la plume de l'auteur de la grandeur et decadence des Romains, Sylla devient le reformateur de Rome; et veut les ramener à l'amour de la liberté, par les horreurs de la tyrannie, et quand il a sufficement abusé du pouvoir dans l'interet de la republique, qu'il ne separe pas de ses vengeances personnelles, satisfait de la leçon sanglante qu'il a donnè à ses compatriots, il brise lui meme la palme du dictateur qu'il a usurpé.'
Ce n'est point Sylla si imparfaitement esquisé par Plutarque, c'est ce Sylla si admirablement indiqué par Montesquieu, que je veuille reproduire sur la scene.'
But there is no reason, notwithstanding M. Jouy's preference, why Montesquieu, who lived about seventeen hundred years after Sylla, should be authority for his patriotism, when Plutarch, who lived only about two hundred and twenty years after him, says nothing on the subject, nor Appian, who was a contemporary of Plutarch ; nor Valerius Maximus, who lived very nearly a century still closer to Sylla. And since Montesquieu could not have derived his reading of Sylla's motives from these authorities, where did he get it?
There is a point still more perilous to M. Jouy, and a curious and rather astonishing one it is. What M. Jouy says for Montesquieu, that writer does not say for himself. Nay, he says the very contrary, as follows- La fantasie qui lui fait quitter la dictature semble rendre
la vie a la republique, mais dans la fureur de ses succes il avait fait des choses qui mirent la Rome dans l'impossibilité de conserver sa liberté.'-_And Montesquieu supplies a frightful list of the things which Sylla did, tending to destroy the liberties of Rome. It wil further be noticed, from this last quotation, that instead of ascribing to patriotism Sylla's abdication of the dictatorship, Montesquieu, very conveniently for the exercise of his own penetration, absolutely calls his motive or impulse upon that occasion, whim,' and nothing else. But the fact is, M. Jouy, in presenting to a Paris audience a tragedy of Sylla, tried, in order to ensure success for his drama, to paint in its hero, the character of Napoleon ; and as history stood in the way of such a project, he had very little hesitation in getting rid of it. He hit his mark, however, with indeed considerable assistance from Talma, who gave an imitation of the companion of his youth, even to the adjustment of his own stage wig ; and the worthy Parisians flocked night after night to enjoy, under the name of the old Roman dictator, the political sentiments, allusions, and even personal peculiarities, of the great chief, then uppermost in their thoughts I was going to say affections. M. Jouy could have written his tragedy in a fitter view than this.
Having said so much in admission of the difficulties of the present attempt, I hope I shall not incur the charge of temerity for having engaged in it at all. With very little assistance certainly, I have had to sit down, and, after careful study, venture a new solution of the enigma of Sylla's dark character, and above all, of the last grand act of his public existence. If I have failed, let me be judged only as severely as the reader's recollections of history will warrant. Nor shall I attempt to conciliate, in a preface, his good-natured dispositions towards my dramatic scenes, by a detailed account of why and wherefore I constructed them as they are, for if they do not tell their own story, so far at least, they tell nothing. It is useless trying to argue a man into a conviction of the plausible."
Banim did not, however, by the foregoing observations, intend to depreciate the merit of M. Jouy's tragedy: Banim's drama was one of action rather than of narration ; three years being substituted for the three hours of M. Jouy, and nearly the whole of the non-historical characters of the French tragedy being abandoned. The two first acts of the tragedy, as written by Banim, have no counterparts in that of Jouy: but the audience scene in the third act is taken from his play, whilst its first sixteen, and six concluding, lines are translated from it : all the intermediate passages are original in Banim's tragedy. The scene between Julius and Sylla in the fourth act is parallel to that between Claudius and Sylla in the French play. The historical situation in the fifth act was open to both, but the incident of Julius attempting to stab Sylla is probably suggested by the scene in the French play in which the imaginary heroine Taleria, endeavours to accomplish the same deed; the chief identity however, between the two plays is the adoption by Banim of Jouy's Catiline.
This tragedy, Sylla, is neither so poetic nor so well adapted for representation, as the earlier composition, Damon and Pythias. Indeed its chief interest is the situation in the fifth act in which Sylla abandons his dignity and power. He discovers that his daughter, Phryne, is secretly wedded to his enemy, young Julius Marius, and with this enemy, yet the husband of his child, in chains, powerless and his prisoner, Sylla is thus, at the conclusion of the fourth act, represented soliloquising in the hall of his palace :
“Slaves, crawling slaves! what wonld they do, which they
(Sits, and writes in his tablets.)
Leave ine. It shall be ! (Erit Catilir.e.)
SCENE I.-In Sylla's Palace. Enter hastily Phryne, followed by a female attendant,
Phrr.-- After my watching all the live long night,
A hateful, lenden sleep, uncallo, unwilled,